Haglöfs Open 5 – Yorkshire Dales
I am still slightly bemused about how well this race in the Yorkshire Dales turned out for us. In the days and hours before the start, I was getting messages from teammate Lucy such as: ‘I think I might be able to do 5 hours’, ‘this is damage control’, ‘I’m totally broken’ and ‘I wouldn’t have made it here if it was just me’. Yikes. I wasn’t feeling 100% tip-top myself, having had a funny tummy for a few days, feeling lethargic and carrying around a hip that was still grumbling from last week’s round of fun. However, I did feel fit and was able to muster up enough enthusiasm for two of us!
The weather forecast was due to be wet and cold, getting worse as the day went on. Normally, we’d run first, but this would mean getting hot and sweaty and wet in the rain (I can’t run these speeds / distances in a waterproof!), only to get on a bike and freeze. It’s much harder to generate enough heat to stay warm when you’re cycling. For this reason, we switched round and biked first. As it was, we got dry weather until just before the run started but then it got pretty bad – perfect!
At the start lots of people couldn’t decide what to wear, Lucy included. In the end we both played it safe – I wore a coat for the bike and she had on full waterproofs, top and bottom! It was a good move though. I was under no illusions about what was required today: conservative, steady and, apparently, fun! We both stayed warm all race, which psychologically and physically was what we needed.
We had drawn up a proposed route for the bike, and after we got the control values decided to tweak it only slightly and to go round in the opposite direction, collecting more higher value controls on the bigger hill first. There was more road riding than we sometimes face, but when we did go off road there were some high quality bridleways. Limestone all the way! We were particularly pleased with ourselves as we blasted down a long bumpy hill, passing people walking up and knowing we had gained most of our height on a road.
Lucy was right that she didn’t have her usual zip up the hills, but we were moving much better than last time. We didn’t even resort to using the tow. I thought it was better to conserve some energy for the run so long as we were moving smoothly. I nipped ahead at gates to hold them open and let Lucy get a head start if I needed any map checks! We were also fortunate this month that our route looped back close to the transition area and had loads of shortcuts if we needed them. We didn’t, but the knowledge was reassuring.
The instructions I was given at the start could not have been clearer: “Rosemary, you’re taking us on a 3h loop, and nothing more. NO ‘let’s just go …’ allowed!”. Consequently, as we neared the end of our loop and had the option of a 3km (total) out and back for 15 points, we let it go and carried on round.
Just under 4km from transition, Lucy cried out that her rear tyre felt bouncy. Whaaat?! A puncture! Darn. We whipped out the pump and blasted some air in, hoping it would only go down again slowly. Lucy set off, I got my kit back in the bag and chased after her. Halfway back, I could see it getting squidgy again and the extra drag was having a detrimental effect on the little rises we still faced. We really didn’t want to stop again, so I gave a push up the last hill and we gingerly slid into transition. Phew!
Somehow, even despite this minor mishap, I achieved the impossible and got us back a ‘little bit earlier than expected’, a turn of phrase which does not normally enter my vocabulary. 2h50, plus 5 minutes to transition. Time to hit the run.
We adjusted our plans due to the control values, then set off cheerfully. As we dibbed out, we told the chap who had gone out of the wrong funnel to watch us professionals to see how it’s done. Then we promptly went the wrong way, much to the amusement of the marshals. We like to entertain!
We left one optional out and back only worth 10 points, but went for the other. Lucy vetoed crossing the cool looking stepping stones; probably wise! Heading up the first hill, we were walking, which is most unusual. I felt a bit anxious that we’d need to move faster than this, but Lucy’s heart rate wouldn’t rise and there wasn’t much we could do about it except chat and keep cheerful.
There were a few interesting controls on the run. The first was at the base of an amazing waterfall, that you couldn’t see until you were right there. I admired the view whilst stopped for the longest wee EVER, while Lucy started back up the hill. Soon we were at the top, running along a short stretch of road as it started snowing! This was fun. Slight mistake going into the next control, but nothing serious and we were heading into a cave. I half expected to see James the photographer here, but he had already been and gone.
Lucy can always fly down the hills, and the reward for all that up was that we were now going down. We cruised alongside a railway to another unusual control location – inside an enormous kiln. I wish we’d had time to explore and read the info board! As we padded along next to the river I sensed that Lucy was tiring a bit. The solution was jelly babies and getting the tow out for the last hill. The second unheard of event of the day, as we hooked up the ‘wrong way round’. This is a strange sensation for me. The little tugs I could feel on the tow were hardly noticeable, but my legs were telling me that they were indeed working harder.
Now it was really snowing, we knew we had nearly finished and spirits were high. Earlier on, some people had remarked on our level of chat as we went past on an uphill, and we weren’t stopping now. Lucy was navigating as well as ever and we flew down a hill, past a control and James with his camera. We could see the event flags, but we had a little detour for one more high scoring control in a narrow tunnel under the road. By now we knew we’d be getting back early, but we kept running just in case time mattered. We came into the ‘back’ of transition and found it amusing to make sure we ran round under the big yellow arch to finish.
Third unheard of thing – we were back 7.5 minutes early! We knew we had a good score, but weren’t sure if it was because the course was a bit easier than usual or whether we had done well. We didn’t feel as if we had been ‘smashing’ it. But what really mattered today was that we had definitely met the FUN criteria. Our bikes and other transition kit was rapidly disappearing under the falling snow and it was a second race to get changed into dry warm kit before a chill set in.
Our category was the first to be announced at prize giving, so we were on edge, not having a sense of how our score compared. But we ended up winning by a clear margin of 44 points, and finishing 11th overall. We’re usually over the moon if we make it into the top 10, so we are pretty pleased with this result! And the race back to the finish meant we beat the leading female solo – who had the same points as us but came in 13 seconds later 😀 .
On reflection, our performance in this race far exceeded our expectations. I wonder whether moving at a consistent fair pace, combined with a commitment to stress free racing, helped us make better tactical choices. We might have been able to squeeze out 10 more points or so, but we made the right decisions for us at the times when we were faced with the options that would have got us those points. In any case, it all worked out. We will go into the last race as series leaders, but Sue and Louise are not far behind, so it will still be all to race for!
As we tried to leave the race HQ the snow was falling hard. The steep little hill was too much for a van and we had to wait a while for them to be pushed out and for a tractor to clear the road. My friend Kim wasn’t sure of her snow driving abilities. We all lined up along the drive as if we were in a time trial. As we approached the line nerves were running a little high. The marshal waved us through as did the spectators along the verges! Luckily we made it to the top unscathed and had a very scenic drive home.
As usual, thanks to the organisers (Open Adventure), course planner (Chris Maudsley), volunteers, photographer (James Kirby) and series sponsor (Haglöfs). Also to my mum for having a perfect dinner on the table when I got in!